Stella Jean’s FW 2016|2017 collection describes the socio-anthropological and the artistic parallels between two familiar and historic iconographic expressions: the Portrait and the Mask. This symmetric succession of two ‘sides’ of the same coin is projected towards two diametrically opposing temporal and geographic latitudes.
On one hand, there is the portrait of the old continent, with its most classical, consciously symbolic physiognomy, that was intended as the status of the aristocracy who, as proof of their noble lineage displayed images of their forefathers in their homes.
On the other, there is the evocative portrayal of ancestors, described through the original masks of Sub-Saharan Africa, or those which were interpreted from a European point of view by famous artists like Brâncuși, Modigliani, Giacometti and Picasso. They were inspired, at the beginning of the 20th century, by an infatuation with ethnicity and primitivism, a movement that through ‘La découverte de l’art negre’ revolutionized a cultural landscape that started to change quickly, resulting in an inevitable desire for renewal.
In a temporal space, Stella Jean has mounted a ‘gallery of ancestors’ in which wooden masks are alternated with portraits of their western counterparts.
A culture involving the meeting and overlapping between art and fashion is also highlighted by the jewelry-sculpture of Pedro Cabrita Reis, Tom Sachs, Enrico Castellani, Jannis Kounellis, Giorgio Vigna, Carlos Cruz-Diez and Ute Decker. All of them were created for the Elisabetta Cipriani Gallery of London and are worn on garments embellished with hand-embroidered details and feathers.
She has created a balance that oscillates between the exaggerated realism of the portraits and an utmost desire for abstraction, and is moderated by the lack of expression of the masks, in which the jewel-work of art plays a role of provocative synthesis.
Artistic expressions that in spite of their apparent diversity make the association between illustrious ancestors, historic personages and posterity possible, underscoring the strong sense of social identity through the value attributed to the memory of ancestors and family ties, in order to preserve their traditions, amidst pagan worship and pleas for protection.
The worship of ancestors becomes a global status and summarizes the conventions that now form the basis of social values: just as only the most worthy members of society were entitled to be painted, so important representatives of the community had the right to wear masks and be portrayed iconographically.
A connection point, possibly a guarantor and a guardian of this ‘gallery of questionable ancestors’ is the figure of the ‘carabiniere’, an immediate reference to Italy and to the Italian roots of the fashion show and the collection.